The 5 Questions You Need to Ask Before Giving to Charity

A simple research tool to figure out if you’re giving to the right cause

By Nadine Riopel

As discussed in How to Get the Most Out of What You Give, The 5 Questions provide an excellent alternative to the conventional questions we’re used to asking about charities. It’s revolutionary in that, unlike most charity-evaluation tools, it isn’t framed as a standardized test focusing on facts and figures. The 5 Questions recognizes that charity is not as cut-and-dried as that. Finding the right charity fit for you is less like grading a test and more like conducting a job interview, and that’s the approach The 5 Questions takes

We recommend you ask:

1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?

It’s surprising how often this information is left out or glossed over. The answer you’re looking for here is something specific and, if possible, measurable.

It’s lovely to say you want to end poverty forever, for example, but since it’s unlikely that any one organization will be able to check that off of their to-do list single-handedly, they should have some more manageable piece of it that they’re working on. Sticking with the poverty example: maybe they want to reduce the child poverty rates in the city where they operate. Or maybe they want to decrease unemployment in their target population.

There may be short- and long-term goals in the answer you get, and that’s fine.

Once you have a solid answer to this question, you can decide whether the goal of the organization is one that you want to be on board with. If so, proceed. If not, you can move on to someone else.

2. What are your strategies for making this happen?

The greatest of destinations is no use without a good plan for getting there. This question is all about the ‘how’ of the charity’s work. You might be really enthusiastic about what the organization’s trying to do, but less into the way they’re trying to do it.

It could be that once you learn about the strategy, you just don’t think it’s going to work. Or it may be that, like Amanda, you believe in what they’re trying to achieve but are uncomfortable with the way they’re going about it. Either way, it’s best to know before getting involved.

3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?

Resources make the world go ‘round. Money, manpower, equipment and infrastructure are essential to any charitable work. Asking this question will give you a sense of whether the charity’s ability is a match to its ambition, or if they’re overly optimistic about what they can actually accomplish with the tools they have.

For Amanda, it’s possible that this question might have sent up a red flag, if, for example, she had found out that the people running the NGO she was working with were all foreigners with few local ties in the area they were trying to impact.

4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?

What gets measured, gets done, so it’s important to know what’s being measured by the organization you’re thinking of supporting. Money for program evaluation is often tight in the charitable sector, and measuring impact can be a complex tasks. However, if no one is measuring the impact of a charity’s work, how will you know if they’re doing any good?

So ask about what kind of tools they have in place to track the effects of their work. The answer will provide you with valuable insights about their priorities and about what kind of info will be available to you about the impact of your contribution.

For Amanda, it turned out that the standard questions the organization asked were not enough to truly assess the impact of their work. It wasn’t until she went off the script and started measuring more on her own that she discovered the deeper story.

5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

Particularly in the case of an organization that’s been around a while, they should have some idea of what’s happened as a result of their work. Finding out what’s been accomplished is extremely useful, but don’t forget to also ask about what hasn’t been done.

Hearing about the mistakes and shortcomings of an organization can be very valuable, as it provides you with a chance to find out what they’ve learned from those setbacks and how they’ve adjusted their approach to do better in the future. Everyone makes mistakes – it’s how they handle them that counts.

Former charity fundraiser Nadine Riopel is on a mission to help people who want to get involved and make a difference, but struggle with the way giving and volunteering usually goes.  She works with them through writing, workshops, speaking engagements, and one-on-one consultations to find the best way to make the impact they crave. You can find out more about her at http://givesmart.ca

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